Alleged cult leader Keith Raniere forced select followers into a strange nude "tribute" when he wanted to deliver a sermon, former Nxivm lieutenant Lauren Salzman testified in Brooklyn Federal Court on Friday. According to the witness, Raniere would make sorority members strip and situate themselves on the floor while he perched in a chair and held forth. Salzman reportedly admitted to a years-long relationship with Raniere, who allegedly functioned as her direct "master" and who is currently on trial for a raft of charges related to his role as alleged leader of a sexual pyramid scheme.
According to the NY Times, Salzman took the stand on Friday and explained Nxivm's inner-workings, describing meetings in which Raniere obligated members of the secret sub-group, D.O.S.—an acronym for a Latin phrase that roughly translates to "Lord/Master of the Obedient Female Companions"—to sit through lectures on his philosophy. On the occasions when he himself could not make one of these gatherings, members still had to splay themselves out on the floor, displaying their brands (sigils of Raniere's initials) while they posed for a group photo, which would then be sent to the self-appointed "Vanguard."
Salzman pleaded guilty to charges of racketeering conspiracy in April, acknowledging that she had threatened a Nxivm member with deportation as a means of keeping her trapped in a room for years. Salzman's mother, Nancy, co-founded the group with Raniere in the 1990s, and pleaded guilty to racketeering in March.
On Friday, Salzman told the court that she and Raniere sustained a sexual relationship for years, and that he charged her with cementing the loyalties of members whose faith in the organization wavered. According to the Times, she also recalled how he built up a mystical persona, frequently telling the members of D.O.S. outlandish stories about his supernatural-seeming powers: The ability to walk through a rainstorm and come out dry, for example.
As a top member of D.O.S., Salzman was responsible for growing Nxivm's ranks to include "thousands or almost a million people," she said on Monday, according to the NY Post. Salzman reportedly said that Raniere specifically desired "people of power and influence"—people he could elevate into "high-level" public office and control via the mountain of blackmail "collateral" he'd amass from them. (Earlier in the trial, the court heard about Raniere's alleged habit of forcing members to provide nude photos and other damning materials designed to embarrass them and guarantee their loyalty.)
Salzman also testified that Raniere pressured her to grow her group of "slaves" from six women to 100 by obligating each recruit "make a whole list of all the people they know—mother included—who should be enrolled," the Post reported. As a means of keeping those "slaves" subservient, Salzman recalled, Raniere would use "sex torture" tools (like paddles, nipple clamps, handcuffs, and even nets, according to the Times Union). His alleged physical abuse also included kicking disobedient recruits, and locking some in what he called a "dungeon," Salzman reportedly said.
"He said [the dungeon] was for the people most committed to growth," she testified, according to the Times Union. "They would get locked in a cage." Raniere allegedly insisted that whatever punishment "masters" dealt out "should be something that really hurts."
Although Salzman reportedly admitted to a sexual relationship that stretched from 2001 or 2008 or 2009, and briefly flared again in 2017, the Times Union reports that she did not join D.O.S. until 2016, and that life inside the "sorority house" began to frighten her once she learned what it entailed.
"It didn't sound like anything I ever wanted," Salzman said, according to the Times Union. "These things started to become scary for me. I was concerned about failing."
Raniere stands accused of sex trafficking, forced labor conspiracy, different types of fraud, and child pornography stemming from inappropriate photos he allegedly took of underage girls, with whom he allegedly coerced into repeated sexual encounters. Five of his original co-defendants—including Smallville's Allison Mack, whom Raniere allegedly wanted to "break"—have all accepted plea deals for their roles in the alleged sex cult.